Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern (1962)

aka The Door with 7 Locks

When safe cracker Pheeny (Klaus Kinski) comes to Inspector Dick Martin (Heinz Drache) of Scotland Yard to tell him a curious story about some people bringing him to a secret area to open a strange door with seven locks, Martin doesn’t really know what to think, and mostly shrugs the whole thing off. When he finds Pheeny dead in his cupboard, he’s sure something is going on.

It doesn’t take long until Martin and his intrepid assistant Holms (Eddi Arent) suspect Pheeny’s mysterious door is connected with the first two in what will soon become quite a series of murders, whose victims both carried two very similar keys around. A bit later, Martin encounters the proverbial unsuspecting young heiress in danger (Sabine Sesselmann), and finds himself wading through a lot of suspicious people, like mad scientist Antonio Staletti (Pinkas Braun), owner of a musical chair Betram Cody (Werner Peters) and his domineering and quite evil wife Emely (Gisela Uhlen), a frightening brute (Ady Berber), and so on, and so forth.

Die Tür mit den 7 Schlössern is only the second Rialto Edgar Wallace adaptation directed by series mainstay Alfred Vohrer. It doesn’t indulge quite as intensely in the director’s visual tics and obsessions, so there aren’t as many shots of peeping or enlarged eyes as usual (though Staletti has some very fine glasses), and the self-references and irony aren’t coming quite as thick and fast; probably because there just weren’t enough Wallace films made by Rialto to have finalized a house style to be self-ironic about.

There is still a lot going on that is very typical of Vohrer’s krimis, though, like the often creative, generally eccentric framing and blocking of shots and scenes, the director’s – and probably director of photography Kurt Löb’s – use of deep focus, and visual dynamics that emphasize the more grotesque aspects of any given scene and set, establishing early and often that the UK the film takes place in is a dream made out of cheap thriller novels and every cliché about the country Germans of the time probably not really believed in, yet still fancied quite a bit. At this point in the cycle, Vohrer operated with true verve, and while this is very close to the platonic archetype of what the Rialto Wallace formula would become, the resulting film feels fresh and lively, and as fun as these things come.

I was a bit surprised by the important role of the film’s mad scientist as played with great, sweaty enthusiasm by Pinkas Braun, or rather, I was surprised by the degree of mad science the Die Tür, quite atypical for the Wallace films, indulged in, with Staletti having already created his own mentally disabled brute and planning on continuing his good work by transplanting the head of a human onto an ape body (great shoddy ape costumes there, by the way), so that the geniuses of humanity can live on eternally, complete with as clear of an echo of certain Nazi “science” ideas as German pop cinema dared use at the time. As they say, SCIENCE! Staletti further recommends himself by taking the time to indulge in a little slide show presentation to inform the film’s heroine of a two-headed dog supposedly created by Pavlov, and gloating so intensely said heroine has ample time to slink away from him.

The film takes a bit of time to reach these heights of pulp nonsense (there’s, for example, also a gun hidden in an arm prosthesis to delight you if you like that sort of thing, and why wouldn’t you?). In fact, at first Die Tür seems a bit harmless and tepid. This is, however, Vohrer taking a run-up so he can then go as full out crazy as anything you’ll find in the cycle, with nary a second of the film’s latter half going by that does not contain a neat visual gag, or an absurd idea presented with the greatest matter-of-fact-ness. It’s a joy to watch, and, I can’t help but suspect after the resulting film, it looks as it was a bit of a joy to make too.

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